Networks grapple with loss of 18-34 year olds to video games.

The very short article CNN.com – Is TV losing out to video games? highlights what appears to be a growing issue for major TV networks. Mainly that the desirable demographic of men between 18-34 who watch prime time TV is shrinking and video games may be to blame.

February is a sweeps month and the ratings during that period are what the networks use to set local advertising rates. One of the big demographics that advertisers look for is men between the ages of 18 and 34 so there tends to be a lot of crap aimed directly at that demographic put out during the sweeps. The problem is that since the start of this latest TV season the folks at Nielsen Media Research have reported a decline of 8 percent to 12 percent in this demographic causing the networks to question the validity of their data. Enter Sony with a recent study of online gaming habits for owners of its consoles:

Sony Corp., maker of the PlayStation 2 video game console, said a study of the online gaming habits showed that peak usage was between 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., a span that encompasses television’s prime time.

The study, which Sony conducted in February and released March 4, comes amid a potentially costly debate for the networks about whether fewer younger men have been watching broadcast television.

February is one of the television industry’s “sweeps” periods, when ratings are used to set local TV advertising rates, and Sony said that 65 percent of its online gaming audience during TV’s prime time—8 p.m. to 11 p.m. week nights—were men aged 18 to 34.

As if competition from cable-only channels wasn’t enough, I’m sure this is just wonderful news for the folks who run the networks. Sony estimates that only 10 percent of PS2 owners currently have the broadband adapter to play games online so there’s no way of knowing how much of the rest of PS2 owners are playing games offline rather than watch prime time TV, but if they’re anything like me I suspect the number is pretty high.

Being 36 I’m two years beyond being in the most desirable demographic that advertisers look for, but I do represent a growing trend it would seem. I’d hazard to guess that there hasn’t been a single prime time show (network or cable) that I have watched habitually in the last five years though not from lack of trying. Usually at the start of the fall season I look to see if there’s anything that might interest me and then I watch a few episodes to see if it catches my interest, but in the end I rarely end up watching anything for more than a month straight. FOX’s 24 was the last series I kinda got into back when it first hit the airwaves and once I missed an episode I couldn’t be bothered to catch up. The only show on TV right now that I make an effort to watch is TechTV’s X-Play. A show about video games, natch, and I don’t always bother with that one (Thursdays and Fridays are reruns).

Pretty much all of my remaining TV viewing is random, usually whatever I can find while eating dinner or when I’m bored with everything else I’d normally do, with any deliberate TV watching being limited to movies on DVD. Though I have gotten quite taken with Discovery Channel’s Monster House and Mythbusters as of late and actually made the effort to watch the season opening of Monster House last night. Despite that I still usually catch those two shows at random when they’re having marathons. Otherwise I don’t turn on my TV much, let alone watch the commercial networks.

The main reason being that most of what the networks put out just doesn’t interest me. Most of the dramas deal with police or hospitals or other situations I don’t really care all that much about. I’m not much for all the pseudo-spiritual crap like Touched by an Angel or Seventh Heaven for obvious reasons. I don’t care for most sitcoms as I don’t find many of them to be all that funny. Last two of those I watched regularly were Darma & Greg, which went downhill quickly, and Home Improvement which once it hit syndication I no longer bothered to catch new episodes. I couldn’t give a shit who wins most of the “reality” shows though I can find some momentary amusement in them from time to time, but not enough to hold my attention. Monster House being the one arguable exception as it has a “reality show” feel to it. I’d be happier with that show if they just showed us the before and after segments and dropped all the drama of ‘can they get it done on time’ which makes up the bulk of the show. Two genres that would interest me are Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but there’s nothing currently in production in either genre on the commercial networks that are decent enough for me to bother with.

Truth is I consider 90% of what’s on TV these days to be lowest common-denominator crap with all the substance of cotton candy, but none of the flavor. The few programs (mainly dramas) that have some meat to them usually are dealing with situations I’m not all that interested in watching.  Being outside the desirable demographic it could be said my age has a lot to do with it, but this is a state I’ve been in since before I moved out of that demographic. By comparison there’s little shortage of video games in my home that allow me to escape reality for awhile and provide some interactivity to boot. My mind is engaged as well as entertained and that holds a bigger appeal to me than just passively sitting back and soaking up what the tube is offering.

It doesn’t help that the rare series I do get excited about and start watching are often canceled before they make it through their first season. It’s said, for example, that a show like The X-Files (which I watched regularly) would be canceled if it were launched today based on how its early ratings looked back when it was started. Given that, I have little motivation to bother with any show that sounds halfway promising as I’ll just be disappointed when it ends up being canceled. A perfect example is FOX’s Firefly which sounded good to me and friends who checked it out gave it good recommendations, but I never bothered to watch it because I was betting it would be canceled before the first season was done, and it was. Ironically, the sales of the collected series on DVD are so good they’re going to make a feature film based on it now.

The short of it is, I can’t trust that any show on network TV that I’m interested in will generate the ratings it needs to survive for more than a few episodes so there’s no point in getting hooked only to be disappointed. It seems if it’s not a mega-hit like the craptastic American Idol or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire within the first three episodes then they’re not interested in nurturing it any further. As long as that attitude persists I think the desirable 18-34 demographic will continue to shrink.

9 thoughts on “Networks grapple with loss of 18-34 year olds to video games.

  1. Oh you said a mouthful. I can’t tell you how many times a week I have to answer the “did you see ___ last night” question, and then deal with the resulting arched eyebrow when I say “of course not!”. Network TV is dreadful and there is just nothing there worth tuning into. If my TV is on at all, it’s on HBO, Discovery, History, BBC America, etc. More often than not I leave it off - there are better things to do. (Tragically, at the moment my PS2 can’t be hooked up! *sob*)

    Hopefully those results make the networks consider some new programming tactics. But I won’t hold my breath.

  2. *Puffs up and coughs snobbishly*

    I don’t even HAVE a TV.

    I already spend so much time in front of my PC, surfing the net, looking at stuff or (a little more rarely these days) playing games, that I just don’t feel the need for one.

    So I guess it really MUST be a trend

    Then again, when web-streaming TV finally becomes standard… (though it will be a different thing then anyway, but not necessarily better).

  3. Here’s what I TiVo:

    Grounded for Life
    Daily Show
    Dave Chapelle Show
    Real World
    Crank Yankers
    Keen Eddie
    Myth Busters
    Aqua Teen Hunger Force

    I am planning on watching Significant Others due to it’s interesting concept (actors without a script, sitcom).

    I don’t watch a lot of TV, but there are still some decent shows on cable. You should check out Keen Eddie, it’s on Bravo Weds at 9pm.

  4. I hardly ever watch TV.  I spend most of time in front of a computer game, internet, or book.  The only show I really take a glimpse at on a nightly basis is Nightline.  I could never justify paying 40 bucks a month for cable, DirectTV, etc…

  5. Well, I’m even farther out of the target demographic, being over two score myself, but I bless the makers of Tivo/ReplayTV every day.  I watch a couple of things on my own schedule (The West Wing and the Sopranos), and collect a few other things that I might or might not get around to watching (anything with Penn and Teller in it—gotta love that search-and-record function).  Alton Brown and his food science get me all hot under the collar.  The whole family enjoys Popular Mechanics for Kids.  It’s nice to have the option to pick something up later and peruse it without too much time commitment.

    We do not, however, have any video games in the house.  I just don’t like most computer and video games.  I guess that just proves how far off the target I really am.

    But I’m still the target demographic for supermarket shopping music, though, so it’s all good.  :-D

  6. So many of my friends are getting rid of their televisions altogether lately (or at least ditching any external signal providers)…it makes me take a good long think.

    I could probably get away with cancelling my cable for the summer, then getting it again in the fall for those few shows that I do want to follow (and because, inevitably, I’ll be the Tape Tree Person for everyone else.)

    H’m. Wonder how much that would save me. Time to call Comcast.

  7. We are 37 & 38 and the ONLY network tv we watch is 70’s show and ALL Nascar races.

    We LIKE Good Eats(Alton Brown), Junkyard Wars, Myth Busters, Monster House, Tech tv and New Detectives.

    When these are re-runs(all too often)we play Nintendo or go “surfing the web” for something more interesting.

    We too have been burned by good dramas that have been canceled too soon.

    Generally speaking, tv sucks.

  8. I ditched owning a TV in 1995 when I discovered the internet and haven’t looked back since.  Only time I watch it is now over at a number of friend’s houses and even that is satellite or dvd’s.  Actually attempting to watch Network tv is a struggle, all those silly commercials, all those stupid and forgettable drama’s…

    Network TV is now for the very poor and or the very illiterate.

  9. I’m part of the “lost” 18-34 demographic -

    I gave up on TV - Haven’t watched in a show in the last 6 months.  I couldn’t justify the cost of cable when all I did was flip channels.

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